'Moon Over Miami' shines brilliantly


If you went back to the drawing board to reinvent "Moonlighting" -- smoothing Cybill Shepherd's edges, making Bruce Willis an adult, adding dialogue with complete sentences -- you might get something like "Moon Over Miami," which premieres at 9:30 tonight on WJZ (Channel 13).

This is my favorite new show of the year -- a smart, funny, sexy day-at-the-beach of a TV show, set amid the intoxicating rhythms and breezes and colors of Miami's South Beach district.

Bill Campbell, who plays the head of a storefront detective agency, and Ally Walker, a runaway heiress who teams up with him, are the Maddie Hayes (Shepherd) and David Addison (Willis) -- or maybe the Remington Steele and Laura Holt -- of the '90s.

Rakish and erudite, but a prankster at heart, Mr. Campbell suggests Pierce Brosnan crossed with Alan Alda's Hawkeye Pierce.

Ms. Walker is a willowy beauty with a crooked grin and expressive eyes made for double takes and smoldering looks.

It's love, or at least beguilement, at first sonnet. Walter (Mr. Campbell) and Gwen's (Ms. Walker) initial encounter is a slapstick gem of Swiss timing and deft dialogue that ends in dueling Shakespeare sonnets. Walter calls it a showdown of "serial-killer English majors."

This is a series that delights in wordplay, from the sublime to the libidinous, and it may be television's first grammatically correct series. At one point Gwen corrects Walter on the who-whom rule.

But the literary allusions and flaunting of vocabulary are never precious or showy, they're just more comic cannon fodder.

Trying to explain love to a clueless associate, Walter says: "What made Romeo climb that balcony? What gave Isolt the power to heal Tristam's bloody wounds? What made Mickey Rooney marry all those women -- and why would they in the first place?"

In their frequent verbal jousting, Walter is all irony and bemusement; Gwen is rapier sarcasm. Take the scene where Gwen asks Walter to explain the details of a case.

"It's too complicated," he says.

"Dazzle me, flatfoot," she says mordantly.

Mr. Campbell and Ms. Walker are backed by a motley crew of associates who mirror the ethnic flavor of Miami. (There's a hilarious scene with English subtitles in which Walter is insulted in Spanish.)

"Moon Over Miami" is a series that defies categorizing. Romantic comedy? Action adventure? Whatever.

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